PATTERNS IN NATURE: ZEBRAS

Zebras feature among my favourite animals. They look sleek, healthy and happy in the wild; their stiff manes and the intricate pattern of stripes covering their bodies make them stand out as dapper creatures. I understand that while zebras may all appear to be the same, their striped patterns are all subtly different from one another – rather like our fingerprints.

They are photogenic too. It is not surprising that zebras are used to represent various products and are regularly featured on tourist brochures. Their dazzling stripes are both eye-catching and familiar. After all, most of us might have first me a zebra in our ABC books. The garage door of one of the houses in our town has even been decorated with zebra stripes!

These bold, striking patterns of black and white stripes of various widths that adorn these beautiful creatures are an enigma. While they appear to be so clear to our eyes, common knowledge holds that they are actually a form of camouflage and protection that creates an optical illusion that breaks up their outline. Some hold that the stripes help zebras to ‘disappear’ in the dappled shade of trees.

How can this be when zebras are, more often than not, seen grazing in open grassland?

I was intrigued to read the other day that biologists at the University of California are considering another advantage of the stripes: to ward off pesky disease-carrying horseflies or tsetse flies! The narrow stripes around the face and legs, for example, prove to be too dazzling for such insects to want to settle and bite the animals.

Perhaps that explains the contented appearance of zebras in the wild? We will need to observe them more closely when next we see them.zebra in sunshine

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